Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Shaken not stirred

If James Bond asked a bartender for a vodka martini, "shaken not stirred" and the bartender, out of sight of Bond, stirred it instead of shaking it, what would happen? Would James Bond take one sip and angrily tell the bartender, "I said, shaken, not stirred!" Or would he be unable to tell the difference?
If you think James Bond could tell the difference, what quality do you think he had that allowed him to discern whether a drink has been shaken or stirred?
If you think James Bond could not tell the difference then why do you suppose he ordered it that way?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No note taking or map reading in Chicago!

If you ever find yourself in Chicago, you'd better walk right, you better not stagger, you better not fight. You also better not take notes, use binoculars, cameras, video or maps. In their "Winter Holiday Public Awareness Bulletin" issued Nov. 8, 2007 the Chicago police request the public to immediately report any suspicious activity. Among the activities they specifically request the public to report are: taking notes, using binoculars, cameras and video and maps. See the bulletin here. If you need a map to find your way in Chicago you'd better be prepared to explain yourself to the police!

"Environmentalists removed wolves from Yellowstone," -- Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck, a man who has been given his own show on CNN Headline News, spouted this wonderful piece of wisdom recently:
...it's these same kind of environmentalists that took the wolves out of Yellowstone Park and said, 'Oh, it would be so much better without the wolves.' Well, they shipped them up to Canada. Now they had to put them back into the wildlife.

You know, I think I read about that in the history books. They captured all those wolves in Yellowstone, crated them up and shipped them off to Canada. If memory serves me right it took thousands of trucks to bring in the empty crates and then take the crates with the wolves in them up to Canada. I think I vaguely remember something about some ranchers in Canada complaining that there were already too many wolves in Canada and they didn't need any more. Or something like that. You can look it up, but if you did you would be one up on Glenn Beck.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What the Mad Hatter said

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

The above exchange came to mind when I was thinking about the likely effects of the new immigration law in Arizona, slated to take effect in January. See a description of the law here.
See how the Arizona business community is reacting to the law here. Read today's New York Times editorial about it here.

Insofar as the law is enforced (laws that negatively impact business often are not) I have no doubt that it will reduce illegal immigration and cause illegal immigrants already in Arizona to leave. But will the lives of the people of Arizona be better as a result?

Since Arizona’s current unemployment rate is at a rock bottom rate of 3% (the level at which every employable person who wants work is already employed, other than people temporarily between jobs) the law is hardly likely to reduce the unemployment rate.

Since no terrorist that we know of has entered the country by crossing the US border with Mexico illegally that number is unlikely to be reduced either. As the Mad Hatter said, you cannot have less than zero.

Since people who come to this country as adults (legally and illegally) commit about one fourth as many crimes as people of the same ethnicity and social-economic level who were born here reducing the number of illegal immigrants is unlikely to have a positive effect on the crime rate either.

There are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants currently in Arizona's labor force. If this law is vigorously enforced it will create a labor shortage that will take years of increased legal immigration to alleviate. The short term effects on Arizona's economy are going to be devastating.

If the law is not broadly enforced, if it is only selectively enforced against only certain industries and as occasional publicity stunts for political purposes, then the likely effect is an increase in corruption and a continuing decrease in respect for the law.

In six months or so it will be interesting to ask Arizonians how that law is working out for them.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bold red ties are patriotic?

In a typical example of what passes for political analysis in the mainstream media these days Robin Givhan of the Washington Post writes:

One of the most distinctive elements of Barack Obama's public style comes down to what he so often is not wearing: patriotism on his sleeve. Whether he is speaking at a campaign rally, attending a fish fry or debating his Democratic challengers, he comes across as the candidate least willing to drape himself in the usual symbols of nationalism and politics. No flag pin on the lapel. No hand on heart during the national anthem at Tom Harkin's Iowa steak fry. And he generally shuns bold red ties.

Obama refuses to dress the part of the presidential contender, with all of its safely prepackaged banality. He has never fully embraced the stereotypical uniform of Washington. Even in the glossy pages of Men's Vogue in September 2006, when he was positioned as Kennedy, Santa Claus and the Messiah all rolled into one, he was never pictured in the traditional political costumes or doing any of the glad-handing that is standard practice.

read the entire article

Bold red ties are patriotic? Is that universal or just in the United States? Do other countries have different colors or what?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mainstream Media’s Cold Cold Heart

Political reporters for the main streammedia seem to have cold, cold hearts. They interpret everything the candidates say, not as honest and sincere statements of their principles, beliefs and intentions, but as cynical campaign ploys and attacks on their rivals. The candidates must feel like Hank Williams, complaining that these reporters think "each thing I do is just some evil scheme."

For example, Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press explains John Edwards focus on corporations and lobbyists, rarely mentioning other candidates, this way:
On his current bus tour of Iowa, with the caucuses only three weeks away, Edwards rarely mentions his rivals. …
On the campaign trail, his antagonists now are the corporations and special interests themselves. The Clinton and Obama references are merely implied, hidden in a populist message he calls "America Rising." For the former trial lawyer, it's a closing argument to break away from a virtual three-way tie in Iowa and rise above the fray engulfing his main opponents.

read entire article

If a reporter on the campaign trail does not hear what he expects to hear in a campaign speech, attacks on the other candidates, hypocritical posturing and cynical pandering, then he claims those things are implied and hidden in the message. The idea that the candidate might be expressing his/her sincere beliefs and intentions apparently never occurs to the reporter.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What is the true meaning of Christmas?

When I was young my family belonged to a Methodist church here in the Illinois Quad Cities. I remember at this time of year people in the church talking about how the true religious meaning of Christmas had been lost amid all the commercialism and emphasis on selling and buying things. I also remember noticing that our minister did not jump on this particular bandwagon. Although he preached sermons about how this time of year should remind us of our religious obligations to help the less fortunate and to be loving and generous he never talked about the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas.

I asked my father, who had studied for the ministry, about this and he explained that anyone who had studied the history of the church knew that the gift-giving and revelry, the tree, the mistletoe and the Yule log, WAS the true meaning of Christmas. The celebration on December 25 was a pre-existing pagan holiday that Christianity had co-opted. My father explained that among the New England Puritans from whom he was descended the more religious you were the less you celebrated Christmas. My mother’s family was Quaker and although I was not raised as a Quaker I attended a Quaker boarding high school. I discovered there that the Quakers as a religious body did not even mention Christmas as a religious holiday, although almost all the Quaker families I knew had a Christmas tree and exchanged gifts at home. (The Quakers also did not celebrate Easter, feeling that anything worth celebrating should be celebrated every day of the year, not just on one special day.)

Well, over the last 40 years or so, apparently the debate has shifted. People who call themselves conservative are now outraged, not that the true Christian meaning of Christmas has been lost amid the commercialism and marketing, but that store employees are being told by their bosses to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” and, at least in Australia, some store Santas are being told to say ‘Ha-ha-ha’ rather than ‘Ho-ho-ho’. Conservative talk-show hosts and bloggers are outraged that stores are more concerned about not offending their non-Christian customers than they are in preserving Christmas traditions of saying “Merry Christmas” and “Ho-ho-ho” – traditions that extend all the way back 100 years or so. See examples here and here.

I guess I liked it better when people were complaining that Christmas had become too commercial. The idea that store employees and store Santas have become the high priests of our Christmas experience and the debate is only over how well or badly the stores are fulfilling their obligations to our Christmas is just absurd.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Faith-based intelligence analysis

Apparently the neocons who wanted us to invade Iraq and are now agitating for a US military strike on Iran are not motivated by facts. The facts, such as reports by our intelligence agencies, are not used to determine what they think should be done. The facts are only used to try to convince others. Their belief in the need for military action is obviously faith-based, beyond the reach of facts or reason. This can clearly be seen by their reaction to the intelligence reports that Iran had suspended their nuclear weapons program in 2003. Their reaction, such as this op-ed in today’s New York Times, is to disbelieve the intelligence and to even impugn the motives and patriotism of the intelligence agencies.

This is in stark contrast to what they had to say about the intelligence about Iraq before we invaded that country. When the intelligence agreed with their pre-determined conclusions they claimed to have reached those conclusions as a result of the intelligence. It should be obvious now that they never were swayed by the facts and have always been faith-based.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nice man with long stick will retrieve hat

This picture that I came across at flickr.com shows that Japan is truly a civilized country. They actually put up a sign to reassure people that if they lose their hat a nice man will come along and retrieve it for them. At least, that's what I think the sign is trying to convey.

Bush’s logic justifies Pearl Harbor

Blogger Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post makes an excellent point:

"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."
-- George W. Bush

This is George Bush talking about Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program. He explains that a National Intelligence Estimate that says they have no program is a warning that they might have one. Obviously this has to win some sort of award for circular reasoning (come on, how ridiculous is it that he says the fact they don't have one proves they might have one later….

And if he does believe this absurdity, then wasn't Japan justified in attacking us in Pearl Harbor?

They heard that we had a nuclear weapons program - and we did. And that we might be able to start it any time - which was relatively true. And that if we had nuclear weapons, we might use them against Japan one day - which obviously proved to be true. So, they launched a pre-emptive strike against the United States because we had a nuclear weapons program they feared we might use against them at a later time.

Under the Bush doctrine, isn't Pearl Harbor the perfect case for using a pre-emptive first strike? Japan was rightfully concerned about our weapons program and they rightfully struck us first.

Of course, the only problem with that theory is that there is an excellent chance we would have never used those nuclear weapons against Japan if they hadn't attacked us first. Gee, I wonder if this could be a decent argument against pre-emptive strikes.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New assessment: Iran halted nuclear bomb program in 2003

According to this morning’s New York Times:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies released Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting a judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

What, I have to wonder, has changed in the last two years. If the program was halted in 2003 then that should have been just as obvious to our intelligence people in 2005 as it is now in 2007. Presumably the official explanation for what has changed involves new data or analysis that was not available two years ago.

My suspicion is that what has changed is that the intelligence people saw the Bush Adminstration, after having pressured the intelligence agencies to find evidence for Weapons of Mass Destruction in pre-invasion Iraq, then turn around and place all the blame on the intelligence community for the faulty assessments when no WMDs were found. I suspect that the sure knowledge that they would get the blame again for faulty assessments of Iran’s capabilities and intentions gave them the backbone to resist pressure to ‘sex up’ the intelligence on Iran as they had on Iraq.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Foreclosure Community Meeting this Saturday

I got a nice email from Shelley Sheehy in response to my previous post about the home mortgage foreclosure crisis.

I think that being conservative means a laissez-faire attitude toward enforcement and that is precisely what had gotten many people into the foreclosure situation. When the bank regulators do not enforce fair lending laws or CRA requirements to serve LMI and underserved populations, the predatory products flourish. Not to mention the fact that many of these products were securitized by the investment side of the bank and encouraged through the formation of subprime affiliates early in the history of this debacle. Blaming the consumer is a common practice, but there should be some accountability for Wall Street before any bailout is considered. Conservatives also advocate bailing out Wall Street before the neighborhood.

I have attached the schedule for a Foreclosure Community meeting this Saturday.

Shelley Sheehy
River Cities Development Services
1400 East River Drive
Davenport, Iowa 52803


Board Member, National Community Reinvestment Coalition
To learn more about NCRC, visit our websites at:
www.communityinvestmentnetwork.org or http://www.ncrc.org/

Proposed Agenda for Foreclosure Summit

Saturday, December 8, 2007 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The Quad Cities Reinvestment Coalition (QCRC) is sponsoring a Foreclosure Summit, Saturday December 8th beginning at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 1:30 p.m.

QCRC is convening this meeting in an effort to bring all community resources together to educate ourselves on the extent of the problem and to form a working group to address issues that have come about as a result of the this crisis.

We will meet at the Kahl Building in the 10th Floor Conference Center located at 3rd and Ripley Streets in downtown Davenport. Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to speak at 11:30 a.m.

Again, this meeting is not designed for those who are in the midst of a foreclosure, but to form a community support system drawing upon federal, state, and local resources in the public and private sector.

8:30-8:45 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast

8:45-8:50 a.m. Welcome and Orientation to the Schedule for the Day

8:50-9:05 a.m. Congressman Phil Hare (tentative)

9:05-10:35 a.m.

Identification of the Problem: Foreclosures in the Quad Cities

· Context from a National/State Perspective: Stephanie Preush-Iowa AG Task Force

· Discussion of Local Situation: Brooke Upton/Dawn Mutum-Plies

· Implications for the Local Economy: Jerry Anthony U of I- Bob McGivern-Koester/McGivern Appraisals

10:40 a.m.-11:50 p.m.

Resources Inventory

· Federal: Senators/Congressional Representatives

· State: IFA/AG/IHOEP (Illinois Resources)

· Local: Non-profits/Cities

· Financial Community Response: National/Local

Senator Dodd will speak at @ 11:30 p.m.

12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m. Brownbag Working Lunch

Community Response: Interactive Session

· Intake/Counseling Support/Gaps in Service

· Monitoring and Updating the Community

· Communication with State and Federal Resources

Since we plan to provide lunch-attendees will need to reserve a spot by emailing rschloemer@housingcluster.org

Some questions for those over the age of 35

Have you been reading about the financial crisis caused by the home mortgage debacle? Here is what Paul Krugman has to say about it. Thinking about it has raised some questions in my mind.

Anyone over the age of 35 or so knows very well the basic rules for making safe home mortgages – ones that will likely not go into foreclosure. They were the rules in place when we were young. A sound and safe home mortgage is based on an accurate appraisal of the value of the property, does not exceed 80% of the property’s value, and is made to someone for whom the mortgage payments are no more than one third of their take-home income.

So, if you are over the age of 35, have alarm bells been going off in your head over the last 15 years or so about what has been happening with home loans? If you have investments have you been avoiding ones that involve pools of residential mortgages? Have you said no to second and third mortgages and variable rate mortgages? If not, why not? Did you think that the need for the old rules were figments of our parent’s imaginations? Or did you think that something had changed so that the old rules did not apply any more? If so, what did you think had changed?

If you considered yourself a conservative at any time during the last 15 years did being a conservative make you more or less likely to think that throwing out the rules for how to write home mortgages was a problem? What exactly have conservatives been conserving?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What has happened to the rule of law?

Supposedly the George W. Bush administration is conservative, but what exactly are they conserving? The way the world has worked up until now, at least the parts of the world that are civilized and operate under the rule of law, people are not kidnapped by agents of foreign governments. People facing criminal charges in the United States who reside in, say, the United Kingdom can only be brought without their consent to the United States if the United Kingdom agrees to arrest and extradite them.

Until 2001 the only time this procedure was circumvented were when Nazi war criminals were kidnapped by agents of Israel.

Since 2001 the United States has claimed the right to kidnap people suspected of being terrorists. This did not unduly alarm people who did not think they were likely to be suspected of being war criminals or terrorists. But now the Bush Administration is telling the world that the United States claims the right to kidnap anyone anywhere.

As reported by the TimesOnLine (London Sunday Times):

AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States. A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

The admission will alarm the British business community after the case of the so-called NatWest Three, bankers who were extradited to America on fraud charges. More than a dozen other British executives, including senior managers at British Airways and BAE Systems, are under investigation by the US authorities and could face criminal charges in America.

Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.


How could people called conservative claim this kind of power, a power that allows them to ignore international law? How do you feel about the world being told by the Bush Administration that this is what America stands for – that might make right? What are these conservatives conserving? What historic period are they returning us to?